Former Dr. Phillips offensive lineman Jack Lightsey has watched all of the pieces fall into place for a rematch that seemed inconceivable. Even impossible.
A junior right tackle last season, Lightsey was part of an undefeated Panthers team that took a 14-0 record into the state championship game. Dr. Phillips even appeared to have control against Miami Central, leading 24-14 at one point, but the Panthers' momentum wained and eventually Miami Central pulled away 42-27.
The big Central linemen started wearing down the Panthers on offense and defense. Miami Central's behemoth offensive front started busting holes open for Devonta Freema, who eventually ran for 308 yards and three TDs, and the DP offensive line could do little to spring All-American running back Dee Hart or buy any time for junior quarterback Nick Patti.
And when everyone was looking to point an accusatory finger following the loss, the offensive and defensive linemen found it hard to duck the blame.
"I'll be watching on TV," said former Dr. Phillips teammate and fellow offensive lineman Sam Ranieri, who just finished his third year as the DP starting center. "All of us wish that game last year had gone differently, so for a former DP lineman to get back out there and win it ... it would be great."
So Saturday night at the Citrus Bowl, Lightsey gets another opportunity to face the Miami Central defensive line -- carrying the hopes of former DP lline teammates like Ranieri, Victor Clavier and Darius Johnson.
Lightsey vows the same thing will not happen.
"I’m ready … They took a ring from me before and that ain’t happening again. That is not happening," Lightsey said last week after Armwood secured a spot opposite Central in the 6A state title game with a semifinal win over St. Johns Bartram Trail 46-38.
Lightsey transferred to Seffner Armwood last spring. A combination of different family issues sent them packing for the Florida west coast, and with mom Shelly having grown up in the Tampa area near Seffner, she returned somewhat close to her roots.
The family loved Orlando and did not want to move, especially Jack, but he took on the challenge at his new school in impressively mature fashion.
Jack Lightsey did not transfer from Orlando Dr. Phillips to Seffner Armwood for a better situation in which to play football. The easy situation for Lightsey would have been to return to DP and reclaim his starting spot on the Panthers O-line.
For Lightsey, a two-year starter at DP, to even think that he would go to Armwood and step into the starting line-up might have been considered borderline insane at the time.
His sanity, however, seems intact, and he'll be in the starting lineup on what many call the best offensive line in the state, and that was BEFORE Lightsey got there.
He worked hard, got bigger (6-foot-3, 275 pounds, 20 pounds more than his playing weight at DP), and stronger. And now he's holding his own next to Cody Waldrop (South Carolina commit), Cameron Dees (Marshall), Kevin McCoy (down to UCF and Vandy), Brandon Teeling (FAU or Western Michigan).
Lightsey is drawing interest from several Ivy League schools, while also looking at possible offers from Tulane, Middle Tennessee, and upper Division I-AA teams Georgia Southern and Eastern Kentucky.
He and his family's sanity has certainly been tested. He's been fine on the football field, obviously, but a Tampa TV station recently aired a controversy-generating story about the Lightseys not having established permanent residency in Seffner.
The violation of transfer rules apparently stems from the Lightseys still owning their Orlando home, which is the same address for which the family files its homestead exemption each year. The FHSAA is investigating and will eventually make its ruling.
As for the Armwood team, it has shrugged off the unfortunate interruption to the season and made it to the state final, undefeated at 14-0, despite the off-field distraction. No one faults Jack Lightsey. His teammates are behind him. If it comes down that he is ruled ineligible and all games are marked as forfeits, the team still knows what it accomplished on the field.
Heck, Dr. Phillips had to forfeit all of its games last year following an investigation that concluded after the season. DP had to vacate it's games in the state playoff bracket and it's spot as Class 6A runner-up.
But no one can vacate the season accomplishments and failures from the minds of those players. A record book may say one thing, but those kids lived it. That cannot be erased.
Some fault the Armwood school officials for not being thorough enough in checking the records and allowing the transfer. Some fault the parents and some even conjure up ulterior motives.
No matter where the system went wrong, this story still has legs that will venture beyond the state final.
For the players and coaches, however, their storyline plays out tonight against Miami Central, the defending champs. It would be a victory sweeter than ever for Lightsey, regardless of whether the FSHAA decides to take it away.
He would share in the sweetness with his teammates. Armwood, too, lost in that state final last year, a 17-14 set-back against Tallahassee Lincoln in the Class 4A title game.
Like Lightsey said, they took his ring once. ...
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com.